Jennifer Dulski is an entrepreneur, social impact change agent, and business leader. Dulski is currently the head of Facebook Groups, which helps more than a billion people participate in communities that matter to them, including topics like health, parenting, and mobilization around disaster response.
Dulski has spent a career launching new ventures and leading global teams at Yahoo!, Google, and, mostly recently at Change.org, where she was the COO and president of a global platform that inspires millions of citizens around the world to ignite and support positive change. Dulski’s new book Purposeful: Are You a Manager or a Movement Starter? provides the playbook on how to become a successful catalyst of positive change.
Lisa Kay Solomon: You wrote Purposeful after nearly two decades of leading positive change in education, social impact, and most recently, as head of Groups at Facebook. What inspired you to write this book now?
Jennifer Dulski: I’ve been fortunate in my career to support movement starters from all walks of life and to witness what is possible when everyday people stand up to make the world better. Some are activists, some are entrepreneurs—and all of them are making a difference. In Purposeful I tell their stories and share their lessons, as well as some lessons from my own career, to show how we can all be movement starters for the causes that matter to us. At a time when our world seems increasingly divided, I believe it is important to highlight what can happen when we come together with a common purpose.
LKS: In Purposeful, you describe a new type of leader you call “movement starters.” Can you briefly describe some of the core aspects of a movement starter and some patterns of successful ones?
JD: I draw a distinction between managers and movement starters. Managers do their best with what they are given, and movement starters push to go beyond what is currently possible and mobilize others. I’ve seen that successful movement starters, regardless of cause or industry, are all effective at the same core skills: creating a compelling vision, mobilizing support, effectively persuading decision-makers, navigating criticism, and overcoming obstacles.
In Purposeful, I walk through these steps in detail, highlighting stories and tips from leaders who illustrate each one. We can all learn from a young woman with Down’s Syndrome who helped persuade Congress to pass the largest law benefiting disabled Americans since 1990, an entrepreneur revolutionizing the way we think about personal nutrition, and a high school student who convinced multinational beverage companies to remove a harmful chemical from their products, among many others. My hope is that by offering tangible advice alongside inspiring stories, people will feel empowered to stand up and start their own movements.
LKS: You talk about how important building allies and connections are in the process of fostering movements. What are some strategies for doing that in a time when we seem increasingly divided?
JD: There are two strategies I have seen to be particularly effective at building support for a movement. The first is having the courage to share a personal story. The more vulnerable people are willing to be in sharing why something matters to them, the more others will rally behind them. Sharing your personal story will help make connections with others who may have had a similar experience or feel the same way. And given the technology that’s available to all of us now, it’s easier than ever to spread these stories and mobilize people quickly.
The second strategy I’ve seen work well is to trust those around us. It’s tempting to think we need to do everything ourselves or be afraid to ask for help. Unfortunately, movements don’t exist with just a single, passionate person; they need a team of supporters. By trusting people around us to participate and asking for help when we need it, we can mobilize armies of support.
LKS: In a world that seems dominated by speed, you talk about the importance of pacing. This comes, in part, from your early experiences as a coxswain of a national champion crew team. Can you share more about this?
JD: While it’s possible for movements to prompt change quickly, most movements build over time with determination, patience, and ongoing action. Motivation of teams is as much an art as it is a science, and when you are building a movement with the help of others, it’s crucial to know the fine line between inspiring people and pushing them too hard.
In rowing, there’s a technique called a “Power 10” when rowers in a boat take ten strokes at their absolute maximum power, usually to try to move past another boat in a race. As a high school and collegiate coxswain, I was responsible for deciding when to take a Power 10. I found that a team can usually take 2–3 in any race—more than that and they stop being effective because the team gets too tired; too few, and you may end up behind another team who’s taking its own Power 10.
This same idea is applicable for leaders of movements. When you need to rally people behind your vision and ensure they feel bought in, a few well-placed sprints or “Power 10s” can work miracles. The key is to know the most strategic time to call for a Power 10—such as having a deadline before a big decision or brainstorming to overcome a particular obstacle—and to use them sparingly.
LKS: In nearly every powerful movement or entrepreneurial effort, there are inevitable setbacks and obstacles. What are some effective ways of getting through them?
JD: Whether you’re trying to enact change in your workplace, build a company, or get legislation passed, you are going to face criticism and obstacles. One key to surviving these challenges is to expect them. The more you can get comfortable knowing setbacks will be part of the package, the easier it becomes to navigate them. My daughters had a great math teacher in elementary school who used to tell them that math wasn’t about getting the right answer, it was about “the struggle.” The best mathematicians were the ones who could keep working on the same problem for years, through many failed attempts, without giving up until they finally solved it. And of course, each attempt taught them something new about what would and would not work.
The same is true of movement starters. Whether traditional activists or entrepreneurs, those that can master the struggle are the ones most likely to be successful. How they do that varies. For example, you can try to leverage naysayers to your advantage, or view yourself as a professional athlete. The key is resilience, because as Mary Pickford said, “This thing we call ‘failure’ is not the falling down, but the staying down.”
LKS: You talk about movements creating a sense of hope. What gives you hope these days?
JD: All the stories featured in the book give me hope, as does the renewed wave of activism we are seeing in communities all around us. From teenagers to grandparents, and from veterans to violent crime survivors, people all over the world are rallying others to create change.
While we live in a world that is increasingly divided, hope lives within all of us. It appears in what we do and say, how we treat each other, and what we stand up to fight for. My goal with Purposeful is to give people the belief and the tools they need to turn that hope into movements, whether in their workplaces, their neighborhoods, or the world.
If more people believe they can stand up and start a movement, and muster the courage to do it, imagine how much stronger and more compassionate our world could be.